by Kristine Williams
Sitting on a chair in the far corner of the bare room was a large Indian man, bent over and breathing heavily. He looked familiar, but as Blair turned his head more to get a closer look, pain shot through his side. His reactive moan drew the man's attention, giving Blair a better look at his face. A huge scar crossed his left eye. Instantly, Blair recognized him as the biggest of the three men who had attacked him at the cafe. In fact, this was the one he'd managed to kick in the groin. Blair had dropped the man with that blow, but that was the last thing he remembered doing.
Biting down on the thick gag, he managed to get control over the pain again. Just in time to see the smile cross the large man's face. It was a mirthless smile, revealing teeth yellowed by smoke and neglect. Something rumbled deep within the man's chest, something Blair realized was laughter. He swallowed as best as he could around the cloth, bracing himself against what he feared was about to happen.
Slowly, still bent over in obvious discomfort, the man stood, smiling down at his captive. He spoke in Hindi, words Blair could only partially understand. He caught the ones that mattered; regret, pain, revenge. Huge, ugly hands reached down, grabbing Blair's shirt and hauling him to his feet in one swift motion. Before he could try to stand, he was thrown hard against the wall. Hands pressed into his shoulders, pinning him there, helpless, as he waited for the pain. Suddenly, kicking an attacker in his manhood wasn't such a good self-defense idea.
Blair waited, trying hard to maintain eye contact, desperate to show nothing but sure he was an open book of fear. Scarface smiled, laughing from somewhere deep within his throat. One hand let go of Blair's shirt, moving up slowly to stroke his hair. He spoke again, and Blair recognized with dread the gist of his speech. The hand ran over his hair again, roughly petting long strands that had been trapped behind the gag.
Blair swallowed, trying in vain to get more air around the thick cloth in his mouth. Oh, God, not this! I'll never kick another man in the balls, I swear! Just don't...
In a rush of motion, the hand stroking his hair moved to his throat, pressing up to force Blair onto his toes. The other hand began a slow trail over his chest, working its way farther down.
"You maybe pay for my pain, eh?" Scarface's English was broken, his breath foul.
Unable to speak, Blair shook his head slowly, moving only as much as the hand holding his throat allowed. The other hand had stopped at his belly, pressing in gently, before sliding farther down very slowly.
"Your friend, he will die quickly." Scarface smiled again, his eyes glinting sickeningly. "But you, I think I will enjoy longer."
Blair tried to move away, turning his face from the threat before him. His breath came hard through each nostril; his struggles only made the laughter increase. The hand reached his jeans, grabbing the waistband roughly for a moment, allowing the knuckles to press into Blair's crotch, then letting go. Before he could wonder where that hand was moving to next, a blow struck him hard in the gut, forcing him against the wall in an explosion of pain. His first thoughts were gratitude for the fist having struck his already sore abdomen, instead of somewhere else.
His second thoughts were again fear. And blinding anger. The palm no longer pressed into Blair's neck, and his body was allowed to double over with the pain of the blow. As his head cleared again, he realized Scarface was holding him, one arm around his throbbing stomach, the other again stroking his hair.
Disgust took over. Blair lunged away, stumbling backwards in a desperate effort to get away from those hands. One large fist grabbed his jeans, pulling him back.
"Not so quick, my friend." Scarface's smile turned to a frown. "We have plenty of time, eh?"
Blair didn't see the fist coming until it slammed into his cheek. The power behind the blow sent him straight to the floor, where he lay dazed and shaking until he could control his breathing again. Scarface was still beside him, looking down, heavily booted feet mere inches from Blair's face. After a moment, the feet moved, one swinging back quickly, too quickly for Blair to move before it struck him in the side.
He cried out around the gag, then bit down hard against the violent pain. This time, it didn't diminish as quickly. Blair continued to bite down, vaguely aware that Scarface had returned to his chair in the far corner. It felt like hours before he could breathe again, before he could relax his jaw and focus. He prayed his moans were quiet, since he could do nothing to stop them. Scarface would enjoy that. This was a man who had every intention of enjoying Blair's situation to the fullest.
But what did they want? Why had they attacked him in a crowded outdoor cafe on a busy street, beaten him, then dumped him into this room and said nothing to explain why he was here? And where was Jim? Scarface had said something about his friend dying quickly. Was Jim already dead? Was he here? Was he the reason Blair was here? Who was in control? And what was going to happen to him the next time Scarface wanted some fun?
Movement outside the door caught both Blair's and Scarface's attention. Someone thrust a key into the door and opened it, ushering Scarface out into the hallway. Relief washed over Blair as the door was closed and locked, leaving his tormentor in the corridor. He wanted to be sick, but the gag would make that very dangerous, if not impossible. The pain in his gut wasn't easing off, and his right side throbbed painfully. Something warm was running down his face, blood from the blow to his cheek. His hands hovered somewhere between numbness and pain as the ropes holding his wrists tightly together began digging into the skin.
With the heavy door closed, Blair could only hear muffled voices outside, some in English, some in Hindi. Words were difficult to pick out, muted by the thick metal door and the rushing of blood in Blair's ears. If they would just leave him alone now, leave him locked in the room alone until someone could come in and explain it all. Hell, he'd happily skip the explanations and go right into Jim rescuing him, that would be just fine. Anything but what he feared Scarface had in mind. They'd have to kill him before...Or maybe he could pass out? Any more blows like he'd been given and Blair was sure he would pass out. Then he only had to fear what he'd find when he woke up. If he woke up.
This was far worse than any nightmare he could imagine. Worse even
than the one he'd had only that morning. It felt like years ago now, but lying
there on the floor, in pain, waiting for Scarface to return and start to play
again, Blair longed for the simple terror of a nightmare.
"Wake up, Blair!"
In a sudden rush of heat and fear, Blair shot out of bed, eyes wide.
"Easy, Chief. It was a nightmare, it's over."
"Oh, man." With a heavy sigh, Blair nodded at Jim, realizing it had all been a nightmare. Real to the point of sweating, but a nightmare nevertheless. "Jim, I'm sorry, man." He held up a hand and rested it on Jim's arm, smiling at his partner, who remained perched on the side of his bed.
"You were really going at it there for a minute." Slowly, Jim let his hands drop from Blair's shoulders, looking him in the eyes. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Blair nodded again, pushing sweat soaked hair from his face. He glanced around the hotel room, trying to compose himself and flush out the last of the nightmare. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. You want to talk about it?" Jim eased himself off Blair's bed and over to his own just three feet away.
"I don't really remember it." He looked at Jim, feeling the flush that reddened both cheeks. A color he knew his friend could see, even in the dark. "It wasn't clear, just a feeling. Kinda like when you're a kid and you're sure there's a monster under your bed, you know?" He laughed a little and looked at the blankets for a moment, then back at Jim.
"Yeah, I know. I used to get those all the time."
Jim nodded, swinging his legs back up onto his bed. "What, you don't think I ever had nightmares?"
Blair shrugged. "I just never thought of you as a kid."
"Yeah, well, when I was a kid and had those real screamers, I couldn't go to anyone about them. Stephen was too young, and Dad considered fear a weakness."
"Man, that must have been hard." Blair looked at Jim, trying to see his eyes in the moonlight. Just when he thought he'd seen every side of Jim Ellison there could be, he'd turn and show another, revealing something not so much inside Jim, but inside Blair. He was beginning to understand now that revelations about his new friend weren't always discoveries of his subject. More often than not, they were discoveries of his own capabilities. "What did you do?"
Jim shrugged, looking back at Blair. "The only thing I could do, Chief. I'd get up, check the closets, look under the bed, then go back to sleep."
Blair sighed, then lay back down, resisting the urge to glance under the hotel bed.
"You okay now?" Jim glanced over, pushing the blanket down farther off his body as he got comfortable again.
"Yeah, man, I'm fine." Pressing his face into the pillow, Blair closed his eyes, checking the inside for any leftover signs of the terror that had awakened him. It was gone, but the last of the feelings remained. A monster was the closest Blair could come to explaining the feeling, since it was really just a feeling, not a vision. At least, nothing solid. He only knew something terrible was coming, but it wasn't chasing him, it was after Jim. Blair was helpless to stop it--whatever it was--and he couldn't see it clearly, but it was there. And it wanted Jim.
By the time he was up and dressed the next morning, all thoughts of the nightmare were gone, burned out of his memory by the hot, Indian sun.
"Jim, are you sure you don't mind this?" Blair pulled his hair back, securing it with a thick rubberband. "You can find the cafe okay? You know, you can come with me."
Jim laughed, then reached up to slap the back of Blair's damp head. "I'm a big boy. When I contact Robert, I'll leave a note downstairs in case you need to find me. I have a feeling once you get in to see that thing, you're gonna forget all about me, the cafe, even what country you're in."
Blair grinned, wondering if Jim was guessing, or if he'd heard somehow about his trip to Tibet two summers ago. "Don't worry, Jim, they'll kick me out at closing." Not like in Tibet, where they'd locked him in the museum's basement for the weekend. Of course, he hadn't even noticed until the next morning.
In fact, by the time Blair had finished taking the photos and was sitting on the floor in front of the coffin making sketches and taking notes, he'd completely forgotten Jim and the cafe. It wasn't until they were ushering him out the door at closing that he thought to check the time. Only ten minutes late, Jim had probably just had time to sit down and order a beer, no problem. Blair searched the crowded cafe and found no sign of his partner, so he grabbed the first available table he could find in the courtyard and ordered some of the strong coffee he'd learned to value over the years. To pass the time, Blair pulled his notebook out of his pack and went over his sketches and comments, adding more as he found room.
It wasn't until Jim was a full hour and a half late that Blair realized he wasn't there. Suddenly worried, he put away the notebook and debated going back to the hotel. It was three blocks away, but Jim said he'd leave word there as to where he'd gone to meet Robert. He could just be late, having a good time. But if he was, being Jim, he would have left word. But would he leave a note with the cafe, or the hotel? Probably the hotel, since Blair wasn't convinced the cafe even had a phone. He couldn't be lost, surely. New Delhi was an immensely populated city, and all the streets could start to look alike to the casual visitor. No, that didn't make sense either. Blair packed his notebook away, paid for the coffee, and decided to leave.
A large shadow fell over the table, effectively eclipsing the late afternoon sun. Blair looked up to see a huge man, flanked by two smaller, yet equally dangerous looking men. Swallowing, he glanced away and stood as casually as he could, turning to look for an easier way around the group. Don't panic, maybe they just want the table. The largest of the three reached out, placing a huge palm against Blair's chest.
"Khabar daar hona, khaass."
Take care, pretty one? Oh, man, please let my translation be wrong! Blair stepped back and the hand fell away. Forcing his fear down, he looked up at the giant blocking his path. The man had a scar crossing his eye, and breath rivaling that of Professor Kinyon's poodle. Hastily, Blair murmured apologies for being in the way, and tried to go around.
"Not so fast, I think." One of the other men stepped forward, smiling.
Blair moved as quickly as he could,
swinging the pack around to connect with the smaller man's face while kicking
out with all his might at the Goliath in front of him. His foot connected with
the large man's groin, dropping him like a rag doll, but before Blair had the
chance to recover his own balance, something slammed into his face, spinning him
around. His head hit the ground hard, dazing him. The sound of shouts, and of
tables pushed out of the way as the cafe's courtyard emptied of patrons rang in
his ears. Hands clutched the front of Blair's shirt, lifting him up several feet.
There was a flash of sunlight, then pain exploded through his jaw, and blackness
washed over the world.
Now he longed for blackness. And for Jim to wake him from this. He has to be alive! He has to be. It only made sense, after all. Blair knew he wasn't worth kidnapping for any other reason. And Jim hadn't shown up at the cafe. Which could only mean that he was here, wherever here was. But that meant he was in trouble. And Blair had played right into it, probably adding to whatever trouble Jim was trying to get out of. So was Jim here, or somewhere else? Did he know what had happened at the cafe? But how did they get Jim? It had to be his friend, Robert. Jim could have taken those three men easily, so he must have been tricked somehow. Jim must not have realized he was in danger, why would he?
With a clang of metal, the door opened again, sending a chill down Blair's spine. He heard footsteps, two sets, coming up to him. One huge pair of hands grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet, spinning him around. Scarface adjusted his grip, holding one arm around Blair's throat, then pulled the gag out of his mouth with the other
"So, you're Sandburg."
Blair had to fight for focus, blinking back against the dizziness and fear to get a better look at the blond man standing before him.
"Pardon my manners. I'm Robert, Jim's friend." The smile that followed was sickly sweet, as was his breath. Dull brown eyes held no humor, and teeth stained from coffee flashed in a predatory grin.
Blair tried to control his breathing, forcing his fear to morph into anger. He couldn't give them the satisfaction they were seeking. "Where is he?"
"Well, now, I'm sure you're just dying to know what this is all about." Robert began pacing the room, glancing at his watch. "But I'm afraid I don't have the time to explain." He stopped, then turned to face Blair. "Rest assured, Ellison is here, and for now, he's alive. But soon, very soon, he won't be." He checked the watch again. "So you see, it really doesn't matter all that much what happens between now and then, does it?"
"What have you done to Jim? Where is he?!" Blair's shout was no where near as loud as he wanted it to be, barely cracking through the sandpaper lining his parched throat. But his forward lunge was more successful. Scarface's hand left his neck for the amount of time it took the big man to grab Blair's hair and pull him backwards again.
Robert chuckled softly, watching Blair's futile attempts. "Don't worry, Blair. Can I call you Blair?" He stepped forward, leaning his face into Blair's. "Just keep telling yourself, it will all be over soon. And Jim need never find out. But I can't promise my friend here will be gentle."
"What do you want with us?" Where was Jim? Was he hear, nearby? Was he okay?
"You, not much. Though you may fetch a handsome price on the black market. Ellison, I just need to borrow his services for an evening." Robert turned and walked to the door, then looked back at Blair. "When I'm finished, I'll kill him quickly. I promise."
Anger mixed with fear, tensing every muscle in Blair's body, but Scarface held him easily, spinning him around so they faced each other. He chuckled at Blair's attempts to free himself. "Maybe now we have some fun, eh?" Scarface breathed into Blair's ear as Robert left the room, slamming the door shut behind him with a metallic clang. "We'll be alone for a time."
Desperately, Blair shook his head. "No, man, you don't want to do this." He swallowed convulsively, surprised he still had spit. The guard's intentions were clear, as was Blair's resolve.
Scarface put his hand back up Blair's shirt, running it up to his nipple and back down past his belly over and over. "There is little I can do, eh? Since you got in the first strike, I have some trouble down there."
Blair's eyes darted around the bare room, looking for something -- anything -- he might use against his captor. "Then why don't you just let go of me and get yourself some help, huh?" Scarface shook his head and Blair knew there was nothing he could do to talk his way out of this one. But he'd be damned if he was going to make this easy.
"No, I think I can manage." One of the hands holding Blair's shirt moved up to stroke his hair again. "Don't worry, your friend is too far down the hall to hear us, little one."
Blair pulled away from the hand, and clung to the knowledge that Jim was down the hall. He was alive, then. And that meant a chance. He just had to stall, and stay alive long enough. "You don't want to do this, man."
"Ah, but I do." Scarface smiled again. "Maybe later, we do this for your friend, eh? Right before he dies?"
"No!" Desperate, Blair let his right knee come up with all his force behind it, risking the loss of balance in one desperate attempt. Scarface doubled over violently with the impact of Blair's knee into his groin, screaming his pain and rage with a deafening bellow. Blair started to fall backward, but his expected meeting with the ground was delayed. Hands, the hands he'd come to dread so quickly, were still clutching him. His fall was postponed just long enough for the first blow to connect with his right side, lifting him off his feet for an instant. The second caught him in the belly. Blair was unconscious before he hit the floor.
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